If you don’t have a corporate background, teaching business English in Russia might seem like yet another form of culture shock.
Chances are, though, that you’ll be teaching at a fairly basic level, with “business English” just meaning “English” with an emphasis on business-specific vocabulary and some specific forms of formal writing.
If you do have a corporate background, you may need to de-jargon your language somewhat and focus on the fundamentals of teaching English. There’s not much point running a class on writing reports when the students are still struggling with basic tenses. Either way, there are a few ways to help make those first few classes a success.
Hints for Becoming a Successful Business English Teacher from the Start
Explain the Point
If an activity doesn’t obviously practice a recent grammar point or such like, it is worth explaining the purpose to the class, particularly when you start. In contrast to many other countries, especially in the Americas, activities that appear to be mostly for fun and just happen to practice a bit of English probably won’t get the best reception in Russia. Such activities usually have a valid learning objective, but make sure your students appreciate what it is.
Use Relevant Examples
Your students are learning English to advance their careers (quite often it’s simply a requirement of their job or the job they’d like) so they are liable to want classes that obviously and specifically address their needs. Have a business angle on most of your activities, which certainly doesn’t mean that you can’t use ridiculous characters or witty twists.
This involves using more of your own activities and less of those suggested in the course book, if you’re using one. English language textbooks are usually aimed at teenagers or a very general audience. Specifically business-English books might have more relevant activities, but the drawback is that these tend to be extremely dry and not ideal for people that have just done a day’s work.
I always create most of my own activities, using any course books (and you don’t always get one) as a rough guide. It sounds like more work but you’ll have better classes and you can adapt and reuse your material indefinitely for new classes.
Be Honest about Your Own Grammar
If you are uncertain of your ability to explain grammatical structures outside of what you prepared for the class, teaching business classes in Russia might not be for you. An inside-out knowledge of the nuts and bolts of English doesn’t come as standard just because you’re a native speaker with a bachelor’s degree. Your students will almost certainly pick up on any uncertainty and, while you might be an excellent teacher, you risk being viewed as less than competent. If you are unsure, take a job at a school that caters more to younger learners and/or people wanting conversation classes.
Dress the Part
This isn’t always 100% essential. An experienced and confident teacher might get away with teaching in a jeans and t-shirt ensemble, but you are in a business environment, sometimes actually at your students’ workplace, and looking the part means one less thing for a new teacher to worry about.
This translates as a suit, or at least shirt and tie, for men and smart business wear for women. I didn’t go as far as business suits and I definitely drew the line at those with skirts, but I stuck to reasonably smart trouser and top combinations, which was pretty much the same as my female students.
Obviously, dressing really badly or incredibly casually, although it might give your students some entertainment, isn’t particularly advisable. Leave the stained jogging bottoms, hilarious novelty ties, hideously clashing shirts and torn shorts in your home or, preferably, in your bin.
Keep Away from Politics
You can certainly have interesting discussions about politics with your friends in Russia (try not to combine politics with vodka) but keep them out of the classroom. There are several reasons for this, with the most obvious being that your view of Russian politics and history might not be the same as your students’, and they might not altogether like a North American or Western European being critical.
The other main, and possibly more important (because you could well be an excellent diplomat), reason is that your students may not agree with each other. Since chances are high that they, or some of them, work together, bringing up political issues, whether anybody is outspoken or not, can create a new tension in the class and outside. You thought you had an interesting business-related news article to work from; you find you now have an increasingly awkward class.
Wake Up Your Students
The subject matter might seem dry and learning a language is tough at the best of times, but that means an essential part of your job is to liven things up. You try learning a difficult language after a long day spent fighting spreadsheets and avoiding a pedantic boss. Add on a tedious teacher with a seemingly never-ending supply of grammar drills and you’d almost certainly fall asleep.
“Livening up” doesn’t mean party games or constant running around, which have the tendency to make people think you’re confusing them with 8 year olds. It does mean keeping things interesting and dynamic. For early morning and evening classes in particular, some sort of physical activity at the start does help and doesn’t have to be in the kindergarten style. For example, there are an endless number of variations on the activity that involves everybody standing up, talking to one other person and then moving on. Certain team games, provided they have an obvious point – see above –, also work well, especially when done against the clock.
Have Occasional Social Events
People who don’t already know each usually make friends in their language class and you’ll probably make friends with some of your students. On top of this, it pays to organise the occasional event, such as a night out or a lunch at the weekend, for one class or several, telling students that the plan is to practice English in a social setting. I found the “speaking English” part rarely lasts long, although you’ll doubtless get to practice your Russian, but these events pay off in terms of class bonding. For as long as the “speaking English” part lasts, it also does practice an essential skill for people working or wanting to work in an international environment, i.e. sociable chit chat in English with near strangers.